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Having a bout of insomnia during a stressful time of your life is annoying and disruptive enough, but many people suffer from chronic insomnia that can continue for years, or even decades. We know how miserable we feel if we don’t get enough sleep for one night, but the effect of little or poor quality sleep night after night can not only make it impossible to function, but can also lead to mood problems like anxiety, depression, irritability and weight gain.

The internet is full of basic and somewhat obvious suggestions about how to deal with mild insomnia, but people with chronic insomnia have tried all of that already. What they need is proper treatment.  

It's Not Either Or

If you're already taking a pharmaceutical drug to deal with chronic insomnia, you don't have to stop taking it in order to get treatment with TCM.  It is possible to treat the root of why you have insomnia even while you're managing the symptom with the drug.  At some point, you will need to stop taking it in order to test whether you still need it, but only when you're ready.

Treat the Root Cause of Insomnia with TCM

When you take a pharmaceutical drug for insomnia, it is important to understand that it does nothing to treat the root cause of the problem.  If you stop taking the drug, the insomnia comes right back. In contrast, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can treat the root of why you have insomnia, so that you can get to sleep with ease and without ceaseless treatment.  

In TCM, insomnia has several different causes and so to treat insomnia, it is necessary to know your other symptoms, too. For example, if you have insomnia and food sensitivities, you will get different treatment than someone else who has insomnia and high blood pressure, or someone who has insomnia and hot flashes.  By determining which type of insomnia you have, we can choose which acupuncture points and which ingredients to use in your herbal medicine formula.  

4 Common Ways You

Can Experience Insomnia

  1. It takes too long to fall asleep.

  2. You wake up during the night once or more (often at the same time each night).

  3. You wake up earlier than you want to and you can’t fall back to sleep again.

  4. You slept long enough, but don’t feel rested when you wake up in the morning.

Yin, Yang and Sleep

Daytime is Yang and nighttime is Yin.  Yang is activity and movement and Yin is rest and stillness.  Sleep is most regenerative when we sleep when it is dark because darkness is the time of Yin.  Noon is peak Yang and midnight is peak Yin.  It is ideal to be asleep at (and ideally before) peak Yin because it is the time of the greatest stillness and therefore especially valuable in terms of sleep.  Yin is not just stillness, but it is storage and accumulation which is the preparation for the activity of Yang of the next day.

The Chinese say that Yin is easy to lose but hard to regenerate, which is why when you miss a night’s sleep it takes many nights of sleep to feel fully rested again.  This is also why people who have worked the night shift for many years feel chronically tired.  Sleeping during the daytime (the time of Yang) does not regenerate as much Yin as when sleeping at night when it is dark (the time of Yin).   This also means that if you go to bed late and the latter part of your sleep is after the sun has already risen, then you have not regenerated as much Yin as you could have if your entire period of sleep occurred when it was dark.  This means that regularly working the night shift or going to bed too late causes repeated loss of Yin.

Have you ever noticed that you can be exhausted during the day, but then in the late evening when bedtime approaches you feel wide awake and cannot fall asleep?  This is because Yin is what makes the eyelids feel heavy enough to fall asleep.  When Yin and Yang are in balance, then the eyelids will open readily in the morning upon waking and will feel heavy in the evening at bedtime.  When is Yin is too low, the eyes will stay open in the evening after sunset.  When Yang is too low, the eyes will not want to open in the morning after the sun has risen.  This means that getting your second wind in the late evening and not being tired at bedtime is actually a symptom of what is called Yin Deficiency, according to Chinese medicine.  This is why you cannot sleep even though you are tired and why it becomes a vicious cycle.  This is the point where treatment is necessary because paradoxically you cannot sleep because you have not slept enough.

Yin Deficiency is treated with Chinese herbal medicine that builds back that missing Yin and with acupuncture points that specifically generate Yin.  Once Yin is replenished with treatment, then the eyelids will feel heavy again in the late evening and sleep will feel deeper and more restorative upon waking in the morning.  Most importantly, because you are now able to get regenerative Yin from sleep, you no longer need further treatment because Yin and Yang are back in balance and the cycle of sleep and activity has been restored. In contrast, Western insomnia drugs are typically taken for the long-term because they do not treat the root of what is making it difficult to sleep.  This is the difference between insomnia treatment with TCM versus Western medicine.

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